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Is Barcelona “sneaking in” corporate naming rights to the Camp Nou?

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Parallels to the shirt sponsor issue

Coronavirus Lockdown In Barcelona Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images

FC Barcelona has chosen to do something very noble: cede the naming rights to Camp Nou to the club’s charitable foundation, hoping to raise millions to fight the coronavirus crisis. A sponsor would be able to buy the naming rights, with all proceeds going to charities fighting COVID-19, among other charities chosen by the sponsor.

But some fans are wary that behind the good gesture there is a more sinister agenda: “sneaking in” corporate naming rights to FC Barcelona’s stadium.

The Camp Nou has never had a sponsored name. In fact, it didn’t even have a name at first. The name literally translates to “new field,” and was just the name to refer to the new pitch they were going to use. It was inaugurated in 1957 after the club’s previous ground, Camp de Les Corts, proved too small for the club’s growing fanbase. Les Corts never had a sponsored name either.

Rumors that Barcelona were looking to sell the stadium’s naming rights to a corporate sponsor are not new, and are very controversial. By partnering up with charities, Barcelona are doing great work, yes, but is it so that they can do a sort of “soft launch” of corporate naming rights? In the future, will a corporate sponsor pay the club money, with charities not involved?

There’s a historical precedent for this. In 2006, Barcelona used a shirt sponsor for the first time in history, being the last holdout at a time where every club in the world used one. However, instead of charging a corporate sponsor, Barcelona donated 1.6 million euros to UNICEF for the privilege of displaying their logo. This lasted for a while, and then the club started using the Qatar Foundation as a sponsor. The Qatar Foundation is a non-profit entity, but fans could see a slow transition mounting as ties between Qatari money and Barcelona strengthened. Soon after, Qatar Airways, a normal corporate sponsor, began to adorn Barcelona shirts. Now, Rakuten - a Japanese e-commerce giant - is the sponsor.

While this might be a “sneaky” way to introduce corporate sponsorship to the stadium naming rights, the fact of the matter is that Barcelona are donating a lot of money to fight the coronavirus. Just like Barcelona gave UNICEF a lot of money and promoted their causes for many years, and changing it didn’t erase the good work. The club could have easily switched to corporate sponsorship from the start, and never helped UNICEF in the process. The same is true now: the club could have simply sold the stadium naming rights, but they have decided to raise a lot of money for charity before then. So are they doing something wrong, or is it still very noble?